WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal lawmakers, searching for ways to pay for health care reforms, are considering a tax on soda and other drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
Some leading health experts favor the idea, even though it stands little chance of making it into the final health care bill that Congress will consider this year. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the proposal was “on life support.”
Taxes on soda could reduce consumption of the high calorie beverage and help obese Americans lose weight, some health care experts argue.
“There is robust scientific evidence that sugary-beverage consumption increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and co-author of a recent article on this topic in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The idea is modeled on the extra taxes levied on tobacco products, which have been effective in reducing their use according to Brownell.
Others say it’s unfair to blame one beverage for America’s obesity problem.
“The complexities of health-care reform aren’t going to be solved by a tax on soda pop,” says Kevin Keane, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, which represents the non-alcoholic beverage industry. “It’s discriminatory. Why single out one product? It would not even make a dent in addressing the health-care challenge or the obesity challenge.”
Proponents of the tax argue that sugary beverages have a unique role in weight gain because people don’t compensate by decreasing the calories they consume during the rest of the day when they drink the high-calorie beverages.
“When we look at overweight and obesity, sodas and sugary beverages stick out like a sore thumb as a cause,” says Walter Willett, head of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “You can’t blame the whole obesity epidemic on sodas, but you can blame a big hunk on it.”